The geology students Meg had seen the day before were gathered by the Goliath. Laramie lit up as he joined them. “Those things'll kill you, you know,” one of the other male students said.
Carlos laughed as he sidled up. “Nuh-uh,” he said. “No cancer's gonna get this boy... He's gonna buy it quite a bit sooner from somethin' a lot more interesting!” Then he pointed to a line-up of four vehicles: The Willys Jeep, the Jeep van, Dodgzilla and the Edsel.
“Joe and I will be leadin' in Little Willie with the civvies,” he said. He pointed to the van. “This is Squaremu, your chariot for the day. It's good for eight people, an' it's got six doors an' four-by-four drive. Too good to be true, but we're takin' it anyway. Dan and Becky will be takin' the Dodge, and as a bonus, they'll have this.” At a turn of a crank, the stake bed sides slid down like a ladder, revealing the tiny Subaru. “George an' Elayne will take up the rear in Edsel Amblewagon, and Farter and Yellow Cab will come with us as far as the highway. If there's big trouble, they'll come running.”
Joe took the wheel of the Jeep, and Carlos rode shotgun, literally. “Hey, that's a different gun than yesterday,” Meg said as she climbed in behind him. “Could I take a look?”
“I'll show you mine if you show me yours,” said Carlos. She handed him Greg's revolver, and he handed her a well-worn pump shotgun with a spike bayonet. “That's a Winchester 1912, Winnie the Pump. Your people used it in both of the big wars, and you were still usin' it at the start of the other one. I picked one up over there, an' never found one that suited me better, except the snubbie for when it's up close an' personal an' my old man's double for just'n case... An' holy sheeeiit, this thing's big!”
“It's my boyfriend's,” Meg said. “I've only fired it once, when I shot him.”
“Then I'm bloody impressed you didn't lose your hand,” Carlos said. “We gotta get you a gun that you can use.” He swung out the cylinder. “I'll be damned, this is a combination gun. See how long it is? That's so it can take shotgun shells. George has been looking for one of these...”
“He can have it,” Meg said. She accepted a gun that looked just like her old beebee gun.
“Hey,” Phil said, looking down at the narrow tires, “is this a wartime jeep?”
“Aye,” Carlos said. “Joe says the BIA gave it to him right after the war, maybe before. This was the same model jeep General Patton rode in.”
“Awesome,” Meg said.
As the jeep started, Carlos looked over his shoulder and grinned. “He died in a jeep accident.”
The sun was just coming over the horizon as the jeep roared down the road. Meg was pretty sure Joe was humming, though it was hard to tell because of the rushing wind. She shouted to Carlos: “I came from the north. I went south first, there was supposed to be a gas station, but then I saw this huge cloud of smoke, and a lot of them on the road. I turned around and went east.”
“Was there a throughway west?” Carlos roared.
She pondered a moment. “Yeah, but it was a dirt road. And... I saw more smoke.” Carlos gave a frown. Clearly, what she had said meant far more to him than it had to her. Carlos called a halt at the turnoff, where a thin column of smoke was still rising in the near distance. The stop was obviously planned anyway, but he jumped to his feet and swore at an unexpected sight that certainly hadn't been there when Meg came through the first time. On their left, erected overnight like the volcano that was supposed to have formed in a day in a Mexican corn field, was a mound 3 meters high made entirely of still-grisly skulls.
The Edsel pulled up alongside the Willys. “This explains the quiet night,” Dr. Carradine said.
“Aye,” said Carlos. “Kilroy was here.” Dr. Carradine got out to examine the carnage, while he turned to address the van load of students. “All right, we got smokies, an' on top of that, we hit Kilroy's trail again, only fresh this time. The good news is, they prob'ly got nothin' to do with each other. We know what to do 'bout the smokies, an' if there's anythin' anybody knows about Kilroy, it's that Kilroy doesn't mess around with the small stuff. So if we just keep rollin', we got no reason to think Kilroy will do anything but let us go.”
“Are you a coroner or something?” Meg asked Carradine.
“No, I'm a paleontologist like Dr. Wrzniewski,” the scientist answered as he gently removed a skull from the top. “But my specialty is ichnology, the study of trace fossils like footprints. I also study taphonomy, the study of how living animals end up the way we find them as fossils, and that includes training and some experience in forensic pathology.”
He continued to talk as he examined the skull. “The `smokies' are raiders who travel in groups and destroy what they don't take. The large bands alone number in the hundreds, or did. But there is only one Kilroy, and almost everyone on the road has heard of him. We ran across `his' work before, and even without this, there's no mistaking it.” He held up a skull with a sizable hole at precisely the spot where the brain would join with the spinal column, noticeably charred at the edges. “This is from a Browning fifty-caliber tracer round, normally fired from machine guns. This, however, was clearly fired from a special-purpose rifle, at a range of not less than 1000 meters. Then there's this... The damage looks like a machete, but I believe a Nepalese kukri is more likely. The blow was sufficient to damage or even sever the spinal cord, and it was delivered while the specimen was fully upright. ”
As he told the story, Meg realized even she had heard bits of it. “Nobody has ever claimed to have seen 'Kilroy', and there's no reason they would have: Most of the people on the road stay behind the swarms, like we do, but by all indications, Kilroy stays ahead of them, killing one or a few at a time from the leading edges. It's not really one person. It would take a small crew just to macerate these skulls- I would know, we do it. But I believe the majority of the kills have a signature consistent with the work of one man.”
He pulled out more skulls for illustration. “The ammunition is mainly 5.56 mm rimfire cartridges, with additional .45 ACP handgun rounds and four-ten bore shotgun shells. The lack of exit wounds points to ranges of 20 to 120 meters, quite long for weapons of these calibers. I suspect that two primary weapons are involved, a .22 magnum rimfire rifle with an over-under .410 barrel, and a similar carbine or pistol with an unchoked, full combination barrel for firing .45's as slugs. If I'm right, then the kills have to be made with single shots. It would appear probable that the same individual carries a double-handed edged weapon, which is favored at close range. Military experience is a foregone conclusion.”
He pulled more skulls from the bottom. “The other major firearms signatures are almost certainly from the support crew. There's more than I saw before, presumably because of the large number of targets engaged. These multiple .22 impacts are from one, possibly two medium-powered center-fire semi-automatic rifles at 100 to 200 meters. Even allowing for the differences in range, the accuracy isn't as high as the other kills, but still very good by any standard. We have a few kills at similar ranges with high-powered rifle, probably a novice but not without skill. Then we have shotgun blasts, and some rather mediocre handgun fire, possibly from an antique revolver, and finally the edged weapons. Those are generally axes and hatchets used purely for the decapitation, or at most to deliver a coup de grace, but some are consistent with combat. Like this... I wouldn't swear to it, but it looks like a flint tomahawk.”
“And these people will really just leave us alone?” Meg asked.
Carradine shrugged. “It's obvious that `Kilroy' is potentially very dangerous. It's also obvious that the Kilroy would not exercise his obviously considerable skill without making it obvious that he did it, or tolerate it if his companions did anything that did not reflect his own wishes. Therefore, since nobody has found any reason to suspect that Kilroy is responsible for anything but killing the revenants, the reasonable conclusion is that it is his choice not to do anything else.”
“Make that so far,” said Carlos. “An' I still say, the faster and farther we can get away from here, the better. But first, we take care of the smokies...”
Joe and Daniel were the only people in the Willys jeep as they drove forward, followed by the Edsel. Soon, they saw the source of the smoke, a burning tank truck that was one of several knocked-out vehicles painted an obvious military green. Two figures in military fatigues goosestepped toward the new arrivals. Daniel felled them with one shotgun blast each. “This is a military convoy,” he said. “It looks like five trucks and only one jeep for the armed escort. The raiders destroyed the jeep and raided the trucks. One of them is immobilized, but otherwise intact... It has ambulance markings, and a radio mast. There could be survivors.”
“Aye,” Carlos said over the radio, “there would be. The brass got sloppy, an' the smokies got cocky. They not only shot up the convoy, they left a few people alive to call for more chumps. They wouldn't all stick around, in case real muscle showed up, but there's gonna be enough hanging around to ambush a light party by themselves, and more on call. And we are very light.”
“They're soldiers, Doctor,” Daniel answered calmly. Carlos's only answer was a sigh.
The jeep drove away with two new passengers, leaving the Edsel sitting forlorn. Minutes passed, and more. As the half-hour mark approached, two men sidled up to the car. “Told ya,” said one to the other. They conferred behind the rear hatch.
“So it's an Edsel. So what?”
“Well, they're pretty rare. Collector's items, like.”
“Yeah, and where's the collectors now?”
“Well... after all this is over, things'll go up again. Old cars could be even more valuable.”
“Yeah, and who says this is ever gonna be ov... Is that a body in the back?” They both glanced in the window, and stepped back. “You know how this works. We don't take the froo-froo junk that used to fetch big bucks. We take what we can use here and...”
At that moment, he suddenly took a swinging door across the face and went reeling back. His companion found himself with the cavernous bore of the shotgun inches from his face and the point of a bayonet pressed to his throat. “Beep beep, mothafocka,” said Carlos.